"So, what's this one about?" Jamie asked doubtfully, studying the program given to her outside the Stratford Outdoor Theatre. The ten Mercs present were all dressed in their trademark dark trenchcoats--Sara had commented that it looked like a Gathering of Immortals, or Men in Black--and dressed up in an eclectic array of formal wear.
Jamie was still in leather and lace, Dianne in a hunter-green silk jumpsuit, Abby in a green silk shirt and black lycra mini, Sonja in her gold sari, Liz, Sara, Christina and Lizbet in Pre-Raphaelite flowing silk dresses, Dawn in a black leather mini and high boots, and Lane had opted for the simplicity of black slacks and silk shirt. He wasn't any more sanguine about the evening than Jamie, but was willing to give it a shot, since Chris and Dianne and Sara were so enthusiastic. The House Mother was almost thrumming with anticipation.
"Will you relax? Would I take you somewhere you wouldn't have a good time?" Chris responded to her Merc Child in exasperation. At Jamie's raised eyebrow, she added hastily, "Don't answer that. I don't really need an answer to that."
Sara interruptted and gave a thumbnail sketch of the play as they waited for the theatre doors to open. "It's a comedy, about two lovers--Benedek and Beatrice--tricked into falling in love, and two younger lovers--Hero and Claudio--separated by a misunderstanding. It has a happy ending, a wedding, a funeral, and that Scott guy."
"Which Scott guy?" Abby asked, flipping through the program, futilely looking for a cast list. "Reeves? Baio? Albrecht?" At Chris's look, she explained, "He's my cousin. A real cutie."
"None of the above," Dianne said. "It's the one Maureen drools over."
"I do not drool." The Mercs turned to see Maureen and four other bouncy, shiny people who had to be Natpackers, all of them carrying programs, and barely restraining themselves from hopping in place. They were as dressed-up as the Mercs, but only Maureen sported a trenchcoat. "I have much more control than that. Scott is...just someone I truly admire. Spiritually."
"And physically," the taller strawberry-blond Natpacker commented. "Aesthetics are important, you know." The woman's Aussie accent was pronounced, and Chris grinned involuntarily. The Janette look-alike who was weaving in place had to be Amy; and she recognized Valerie from Jamie's copy of "Lost Knight." But she couldn't place the other brunette. The Aussie could be only one person.
"Yes." The smaller brunette Natpacker held out her hand to the MMG. "Let me guess; Christina?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Hi, I'm Kelly. You're here with Jamie, so you must be one of her Merc Mommies, but you're not bouncing, so you can't be the Separated at Birth Natpacker." Kelly grinned wickedly. "I've been looking forward to meeting you." Fortunately, Dianne didn't hear the earlier comment, since she was distracted by a hiss from Lane.
"Why are we here talking with these people?" Lane asked the GHP under his breath. Dianne didn't answer, exchanging glares with the ex-GHP. "Aren't they the ones that keep snatching our members?"
"WE were snatching people?" Mo asked in exasperation. "Oh, you--"
"You know you were--" Dianne started.
"Be nice," Christina snapped at Lane and Dianne.
"Mo, come on, they can be here if they want." Kelly said, and she and Christina stopped talking to their fellow faction members and started to giggle.
"Truce, guys? Please? For Shakespeare's sake?" Christina asked. "Just for tonight?"
Jamie chimed in. "Maureen, you know my Merc Mommies won't try anything in public. Not where they can get caught."
"Merc Mommies for a Natpacker," Valerie sighed disbelievingly, pulling Amy away from her unsteady progress toward the bar.
A low growl came from the ex-Merc Natpacker, then she calmed. "Okay. No fisticuffs. Uh...where are you all sitting?"
Sara checked her ticket, and said "Center section, Row 11. What about you?"
"Center, Row 12." Mary GT's eyebrows rose. "Well, isn't this cozy."
"Not!" Dawn mumbled.
The doors opened to the garden theatre, and the motley group of Listers found their way to their seats, passing by the bar and atrium as they did so. Chris's eyes narrowed as she settled in. "Dianne, is that woman over there familiar to you?"
Dianne glanced toward the next section. "Felicia, I think she's an Immortal Beloved...and I think she has a few more of her group with her, too."
"Hi, Tigon!" Lizbet was waving to a brunette wearing a cast a few rows back. "I'll talk to you at intermission, okay?"
A short brunette wearing a Stetson that Chris immediately coveted sat down in front of Jamie, who leaned forward and tapped her on the shoulder. "Partly?"
"Jamie?" The Perkulator warily smiled, eyeing the rest of Jamie's friends. "How are you feeling?"
"Super. Although I'm not sure I want to stop being Tracy yet. It was a lot of fun being her. You're not mad at me, right?"
"No, of course not." Partly introduced the cheerful woman sitting next to her. "This is Kristina... Kristina, these are the Mercenaries. I don't know all their names--"
"Hi, Kristina, I'm Christina." Chris grinned. "Nice to finally meet you--"
The lights flashed, signalling the warning for the start of the play, and the various faction members quieted down as the lights dimmed and the music started. The set was an Escher-esque multi-level confection of Moorish arches and stairways, with a fountain at the center, and about six or seven different entrances onto and off the theatre-in-the-round. The costuming of the first characters to enter was blessedly simple, of a similar 18th Century period as that used in Kenneth Branagh's movie of the play, though the women were not confined solely to white and ivory dresses.
That Scott Guy, whose last name Christina could never remember (Wadsworth? Tennyson? Oh, whatever) was playing Benedek, in tight leather pants and open cotton poet's shirt. "I love Shakespeare," Chris heard Maureen mumble behind her, and the Merc had to agree. No sunglasses, but otherwise, he was incredibly yummy. The actress playing Beatrice was a Tessa-type. Not the same actress as the one on Highlander Sonja realized, because she wasn't French and she was a little shorter, but just as attractive and smart.
Dianne heard a gasp when Hero walked onstage, and couldn't blame Felicia for being startled. If she hadn't known that Janette would never do Shakespeare so close to Toronto, she would have mistaken the small dark-haired woman for her. Then Don Pedro strode across the courtyard, proclaiming that he and his company would stay a month, and both Chris and Lizbet had to be dragged back into their seats.
"It's him! It's him!" Lizbet was burbling, and Christina looked like she was going to faint. "The Old Guy!"
"So? Get a grip!" Lane snarled, holding one arm of each woman until they came to their senses and shut up. "This is the last time I go anywhere with either of you..."
The play progressed, with Signor Benedek proclaiming that "I would live a bachelor." When his friend Don Pedro teased him, saying that he would see Benedek pale with love before he died, Scott sardonically answered, "With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, but not with love."
Beatrice expressed similar sentiments, saying no one should get her a husband, "until God make man of some metal other than earth." Lane had to admit that the actress playing Beatrice was extremely cute, although not his usual type. Still, you could understand what made Benedek so frustrated with her; she kept sniping at him, even as she flirted.
Hero and Claudio became engaged at the ball, despite the villainous Don John's machinations. Benedek and Beatrice insulted each other, engaging in their "merry war" to the amusement of the other characters and the audience. Then Don Pedro proposed to Beatrice, saying "Will you have me, lady?" in a voice that had even Dianne sighing. Beatrice's gentle, "No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly for every day," was greeted by the mumbled chorus of "you idiot" in the Merc's section.
Don Pedro proposed tricking Beatrice and Benedek into loving one another (to the delight of his fellows), and the lights went up at the first intermission.
"So, why is Don John such a jerk?"
"Because he's jealous of his brother, Don Pedro."
"But why does he care if Claudio and Hero get married?"
"He's jealous of Claudio's friendship with Don Pedro, and wants to make both of them suffer."
"So he's just a jerk."
"Sort of like Lacroix."
The milling crowd of theatre-goers obtained drinks, compared notes, and people-watched in the garden outside the main theatre. Lizbet chatted with Tigon and petted Timon, nestled inside Tigon's sling; Dianne schmoozed with Felicia the Immortal Beloved and Nancy the Die-Hard, who'd introduced themselves to her; and Christina and Kristina and Kelly and Sonja compared Shakespeare to Highlander and Forever Knight. "Of course, if we could've gotten poetry like this all through third season, they never would have even considered cancelling it."
"Because everyone would have been asleep," Lane grumped. "Aren't there any swordfights in this play? Action sequences? Anything?"
"Sort of. Later. This isn't a big action play, Lane." Sara shrugged. "It's a comedy. The tragedies and histories have more swordfights, but you'd be depressed by now."
Jamie waved to a smartly dressed blue-eyed blonde getting a soft drink at the bar. "Kat! Over here!" The blonde waved, then made her way over to Jamie and Dawn with a curly-haired brunette woman in tow. "Dawn, this is Kat and Sherri, they're Vaqueros, I don't know if you know them--"
"We never got a chance to meet before," Dawn replied, shaking hands. "How are you liking this?"
"What's not to like?" Sherri commented. "Poetry, true love, guys in tights...it's almost as good as The Princess Bride."
"Or Forever Knight flashback sequences," Kat said, grinning.
"Only without Lacroix smirking in the background," Liz the Lucky said, sipping her drink.
"Hey, who's taking the name of our Beloved Leader in vain?" A tall woman behind Liz asked, turning around to scrutinize the group. "Oh, Mercs. I should've known. You don't look so murky, though," she continued, nodding to Felicia.
"Ravenette and Immortal Beloved. Thanks for noticing. And you are--?"
"Gehirn and Leslie--Leslie's talking to that knot of brunettes over there--Cousins on the loose. Cherri and Heather are around here somewhere. You're right though," Gehirn commented to Liz, "He does smirk. But he has a glorious voice to make up for it."
"True," Sherri said meditatively. "But Scott What's-his-name and the Don Pedro Person are doing pretty good without him. The guy playing Claudio is a dead loss, though."
"Claudio's always a dead loss," Christina said, detaching herself from Kristina and Kelly and Leslie, who had been joined by an ecstatic Maureen. "But no one with any brains actually thinks he's the hero."
"Hero's the dark-haired girl, right?" Jamie asked, looking worried.
"Yes, Jamie," Sara smiled.
"Claudio reminds me of Nick," Mary GT opined, rolling her eyes. "Such a wimp. And sooooo gullible. If Sharon were here--"
"And you should be glad she isn't," Maureen interrupted as she and Valerie joined them, with Kelly, Kristina and Leslie drifting over to talk to Partly K.
"Lately, she's be screaming for his blood," GT explained. "I wonder what set her off? Anyway--how Claudio could buy that load of blarney that Don John was trying to sell..."
"There's worse to come," Abby said darkly, "Although, I'm really looking forward to the bit where Beatrice and Benedek--"
Maureen and and Sonja and Christina all sighed heavily. "What, what?" Gehirn asked, her ears pricking up.
"Fun stuff?" Cherry Munoz asked, rattling the ice cubes in her drink as she came back from the bar.
"Oh, yeah," the trio chorused. The lights in the atrium flickered.
"Time to get back to our seats," Dianne said, grabbing another Harp before she shepherded her crew back to their section. Maureen grabbed Kelly and took away her swizzle sticks at the bar, and dragged Amy back by letting her smuggle in some rum.
Chris hung over the back of her seat to talk to Maureen. "Do you think Scott looks better with or without the shades?"
"What kind of silly question is that?" Maureen responded with pity. "He's perfect either way."
Amy looked considering. "Oh, I don't know. The shades add so much mystery..." She sipped her rum meditatively.
"Are you talking about Benedek?" Kristina piped up from in front of the Mercs' row. "He's pretty gorgeous. But I think I like Don Pedro better...he's still single at the end of the play, right?"
"Yes, but he's MINE," Lizbet said threateningly, leaning forward to talk to the Perkulators as Sonja chatted with Abby.
"The Prince - Don Pedro - does have gorgeous cheekbones," Felicia said dreamily as she walked to her seat.
"Why does Beatrice remind me of Natalie?" Cherri wondered aloud to Leslie. The Cousins, it had been discovered, were seated closer to the stage, but farther off right than the Ravens. Heather waved to Chris, who gave her a pained smile, remembering that she still owed her a job.
"Because she's got a smart mouth," Dawn said, overhearing this, "although she has better taste in men, from what I can see."
The lights flashed, then dimmed again.
The tricking sequences commenced, with Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato arranging to be overheard by a sunglasses-wearing Benedek on the upper balcony, all three of them claiming that Beatrice was in love with him, though she would never admit it, and Benedek didn't deserve her. Benedek went into delighted shock at the news, proclaiming, "Love me? Why! It must be requited!" Kelly had to yank Maureen back into her seat at that point, and Dianne pinched Chris to make her stop whimpering. Lizbet sighed heavily as Don Pedro crossed the stage, looking manly and concerned for 'sweet Beatrice,' and Lane kept muttering "never, ever, ever, again."
Hero and her maid then played the same trick on Beatrice, allowing her to overhear their conversation about Benedek's alleged love for her. The Tessa look-alike was as overwhelmed as Scott had been, proclaiming, "Farewell, scorn! Benedek, love on!"
"Lucky wench," Amy whispered.
And then the play turned dark.
Don John and his henchman framed Hero, making it seem that she was faithless to Claudio; Lane ground his teeth during this scene. Claudio was too stupid to live; and even Don Pedro didn't come off well in the window set-up. Benedek was very wisely nowhere in sight, so his character didn't suffer the same diminishment.
The marriage ceremony began, with the actors entering from the back of the theatre, as if they were in an actual church. Hero, looking more like Janette than ever, happily going toward her beloved--only to be cruelly dumped at the altar, slandered and accused of harlotry, while Beatrice looked on in helpless sympathy and pain for her cousin. Claudio ran off in rage and despair, and the Natpackers could be heard murmurring "Nick lives!" Hero collapsed into devasted sobs and was lead off by the priest. Beatrice raged at her helplessness to avenge her cousin's wrong, and Benedek stepped forward to comfort her.
The tender, painful scene that followed between Benedek and Beatrice [after the priest and Hero's father decided to let it be known that Hero had died of a broken heart] had most of the audience in tears. "I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?" Scott asked as Benedek, and Beatrice responded, "As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I love nothing so well as you..."
"I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest," Christina mouthed along with Beatrice, clutching her program tightly between her fingers.
"Bid me do anything for thee!" Benedek demanded; Maureen was crying at this point.
"Kill Claudio." Lane raised his eyebrows. High maintenance women were a pain. But he had to admit that Claudio had it coming.
"Not for the wide world."
"You kill me to deny it!"
Tessa/Beatrice broke away from her newfound love, angry again, furious at the race of men, and stormed, "Oh, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!" Maureen was now the one whispering the line along with the actress; Kelly leaned over to her and softly said, "Now there's something interesting to suggest to Sharon."
"Think you in your soul that Count Claudio has wronged Hero?"
"Yea. As sure as I have a thought, or a soul."
"Enough. I am engaged. I will challenge him." Benedek said this softly, but the look on Scott's face was deadly. And then, to segue from that to such tenderness when he looked at Tessa/Beatrice... Amy hiccuped, and begged a tissue from Mary GT, who didn't have one, so Maureen had to give her one. Kelly was in a state of dazed shock.
The lights came up, and the audience stayed in their seats a moment, just trying to recover as the second intermission was called.
"Claudio has to die."
"Hero would be sad, though."
"She could marry Don Pedro."
"And Don John must suffer."
"He will. But we won't get to see it..."
"Noooo!" Jamie was complaining. "I want to see him pay for being such a creep! Don't tell me these things!"
"Would you rather I lied to you?" Christina asked reasonably.
"No. But you're good at exaggerating..."
The second intermission was more frenzied than the first; Kelly had convinced the bartender to let her mix drinks, Amy had appropriated a barstool and was talking rather heatedly with Felicia; Christina had been trying to talk either Heather or Sherri into giving her their hats, without success. Lane was demonstrating some swordfighting techniques to Abby and Dawn, Maureen and Kristina and Valerie and Liz the Lucky were comparing notes on past productions, and Dianne and Partly were comparing notes on Jamie.
"Chris had a tracker on her--"
"Well, I can see why she has two Merc Mommies now."
Dianne laughed as Sara joined them. "Jamie can take good care of herself," the House Mother pointed out.
"When she wants to, Sara. When she wants to. Otherwise, she just goes off on some bizarre tangent, and Urs has more sense of self-preservation."
"It can't be Janette, but damn, it looks like her," Felicia agreed with Kristina. She chuckled suddenly. "This is so weird--it's like the Olympics or something. All of us on our best behavior, not playing any dirty tricks--"
"Well, most of us," Kelly agreed, watching Leslie and Gehirn stalk their fellow factioneer Cherri.
"Shakespeare does that for people," Valerie opined.
"And Scott," GT reminded her.
"Well, yeah, him, and the Old Guy too..."
The lights flashed for the end of the last intermission, and the trumpets blared, calling them back into the theatre.
The comic police, the Watch, apprehended Hero's slanderers, and brought them to justice; Hero's father and uncle confronted Claudio, and Scott/Benedek challenged his former friend in harsh terms that had Lane saying, "yeah!" under his breath. Then Hero's good name was cleared, and Claudio broke down in an agony of remorse and regret.
"Knightie," muttered the entire row of Natpackers. Dawn turned around to shush them, and nearly missed Don Pedro's regretful agreement on a funeral for the dead girl. Sonja was swaying in her seat, watching the Old Guy looking deep, intense and full of regret that was untainted by self-hatred.
The funeral followed the same processional route as the wedding, eerily enough; dark and lit by candles, with sad music and much wailing. Don Pedro's presence redeemed Claudio's somewhat overwrought histrionics. Felicia could be heard grumbling in her seat in the next section; something about "hit him on the head, see if he buys a clew."
Benedek and Beatrice had a small, sweet, silly scene together, where Scott had been trying to compose verses to his love, and concluded that he "was not born under a rhyming planet." Tessa/Beatrice entered and bantered with him a while, and when he asked her dryly, "Tell me, for which of my bad parts did you first love me?" she replied, "For all of them together, which maintained so politic a state of evil, that they would allow no good part to intermingle." The audience laughed with Benedek, who was then asked by Beatrice, "but come, for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?"
"Suffer love? Aye, a good epithet. I do suffer love indeed, for I do love thee against my will." The rueful, loving look he gave her, so at odds with his reproachful words, set off another chorus of sighs in the audience. Abby was beginning to see what Chris saw in this guy; not the most beautiful guy on the planet, but oh, did he know how to deliver a line...
As a condition of Claudio's forgiveness, Hero's father required that the Count marry his niece. Something which has never made sense to any woman who's seen the play...but makes it possible for Hero to come back from the dead, forgive Claudio, and have a happy ending. The Janette-look-a-like was so happy at her resurrection, that the audience almost forgave that adolescent idiot Claudio for being such a jerk.
And then... Benedek and Beatrice had found out how they were deceived, and each swore they did not love the other, except 'in friendly recompense.' No one, seeing Scott's shuttered and controlled face, believed it for a second--except the hurt Beatrice, who was too scared to declare her love. She seemed to think Benedek's devotion was too much to hope for. Shakespeare's Incredibly Useful Plot Device, the overlooked letter, was thus used to bring the warring lovers back together again, both joking, until Benedek became mock-outraged, and said "Peace, I will stop your mouth!" and kissed her.
"Wow," Mo breathed, fanning herself with her program. Amy muttered something unintelligible.
Don John got dragged on in chains, then dragged off again to horrid unnamed punishments, and they all lived happily ever after. And yes, Don Pedro was still single at the end.
There were three curtain calls, and Chris's hands hurt from the clapping, her throat sore from yelling "Bravo! Brava! Yayyy!" The Natpackers behind her were making twice as much noise, and she could see Felicia wiping away tears, as Partly and Kristina stomped their feet on the ground as well as clapping their hands.
"Okay, it wasn't bad," Lane allowed. "But it still could have used a swordfight."
The Listers slowly made their way out of the theatre, and Lizbet and Christina exchanged looks as they neared the exit to the parking lot. Lizbet was walking and talking with Tigon, whose head bent to hear what the shorter woman was whispering. She suddenly laughed, her light brown hair falling back, and she nodded in amusement as Lizbet shot Chris a high-sign.
Chris caught up to black-clad Cherri and smiled at her and Heather. "Do you guys need a lift back?"
"How did you know?" Heather asked, puzzled.
"Oh, we always have transportation--and while the Natpackers have the Autumn Wine(tm) Cavalier this time, no one else ever does in these Wars. It's not convenient to have ready transport. We could drop you off..."
Cherri's eyes narrowed. "You're up to something."
"Of course I am," Christina's smile was irresistably charming. "I'm a Merc, I admit it. But it'll be fun."
"More fun than jail?" Heather asked sarcastically. They were getting closer to the Merc's Gray Inconspicuous Van; Chris saw the Natpackers heading for their car and chauffeur, and waved good-bye to Kelly. Hopefully they'd meet up again soon.
"Yes, Heather. MUCH more fun than jail." Chris smiled at Lizbet, who opened the door to the van, and Christina pushed both Cousins in, then hopped in behind them. "Heather, if you don't want to go to a party, just say so...but Cherri, you're being kidnapped."
"Guess this means the Olympics are over," Felicia laughed as she walked by with her group.
Dianne grinned and got into the van as Jamie yawned sleepily. "Yup. Back to business as usual...can't be civilized ALL the time. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a War." She glanced back at Cherri, and said, "Remember what Susan says about attacks," as she gunned the motor and peeled out of the parking lot.